Hulk's history in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is much like the inner psyche of Banner and Hulk; Confusing, Enraging, and everyone has a different opinion or personality they want to dominate. More on that analogy later. Now before the MCU, in the distant last quarter of the previous millennium, Hulk was doing pretty well for himself. He had his own T.V. show that was insanely popular, and although it deviated from the source material exponentially, it was pretty good. Flash forward to 2003. We haven't seen the Green-Skinned Giant in a while. In the last three years, X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002) have opened the leaky tap to super hero movies once again. So, based on Hulk's pre-existing popularity, the decision was made to make a new Hulk movie, for the 2000s. In the time between these adaptations, the bankrupt Marvel sold the film rights to Hulk, and several other characters (more on that later), were sold to various film studios. Hulk was now in the hands of Universal Studios, along with his villains, supporting characters, and stories.
The Dark Ages and the Before Times
Universal made their film, and quite frankly, it was more of a disaster than the titular character let loose in any major metropolitan area. Hulk (2003) made a lot of huge mistakes, on many separate levels and layers. The first was the writing. Just not good, at all. The film barely featured Hulk, and the villain, Absorbing Man, not only had his powers put in a blender and fed to a dog, but was also made to be Hulk's father. Trash.
The next issue was the casting. Eric Bana was a "comedian" from Australia at the time (Excluding Black Hawk Down). I don't know what about him said B.B., or the other guy. Bana's expression was dull and he was way too mopey. Jennifer Connelly (Now married to Paul Bettany, a.k.a. Vison and J.A.R.V.I.S.) is definitely not in my list of favorite actresses, to say the least, and her portrayal of the character went from distant and unaware of the script to the "just-about-to-start-sobbing" look she frequently bears. [Sam] Elliot was not too bad for General Ross, though, so thumbs up to him, but [William] Hurt was better. I'm not going into Nolte's performance purely out of how deviant it was from the comics. The third layer of issue was the hulk himself. Hulk, who was rarely in the film, was very poorly rendered, which was probably why his appearance was so rare. Now, for the time, the effects were okay, but really, "okay" doesn't cut it for Hulk. So I guess what I'm saying is this shouldn't have happened, but what are you going to do?
A Shared Universe
Cut to 2006ish. Hulk's last Hulk-out wasn't going to continue, and that was well known. But around this time, someone had a plan. Well quite a few people, but the person I'm choosing to praise for it is Kevin Feige, because we all know who he is. The plan was that with the properties that they couldn't sell back in the 90s, (Apparently, WWII films and Fantasy Epics don't make Any money) and some others that they could get back, Marvel, after forming there own studio, would to something never done before: create an interdependent series of film franchises that would all cultivate in a cross-over team up with each franchise's stars working together. Marvel, to my knowledge, already had Captain America and Thor. Through some negotiation, they got one of their most important characters, Iron Man, back from New Line. Marvel knew that for the Avengers to work, they would need the Hulk.
Universal, feeling generous, agreed to let Marvel use Hulk in Avengers films as if they owned him, and in solo films, on the condition they would get payed royalties for the latter. So, Marvel carefully calculated their films and release orders. Iron Man (2008) would come first. The film was cautious, back then, we didn't have the idea of a cinematic universe, or Marvel vs Sony vs Fox. Iron Man risked it in all of the right places. Super hero films, except for Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, and the X-Men were the only that were successful. Iron Man was very subtle in its superherodom, or its more fantastical elements, like Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy. It really was more of a Sci-Fi/Military film, and only a super hero film if you were a fan, or if you looked at it closely. The concept, if you pretended, could easily have derived from something other than a comic book. A Billionaire weapons maker is kidnapped and forced to make a bomb, and he sees the horrors he is responsible for. He has an epiphany, and with the help of a fellow captive, he creates a metal battle suit and escapes. He later makes another (or two). This one is more futuristic, but still feasible; nothing absurd, and his enemy in the film wears a similar suit. Nothing in the film was impossible (with in the next ten to thirty years), so it was more believable and more likeable. Another key factor to that film's success was its star. It grabbed an actor who had enough of a name for the film to be considered worth seeing by the public, but was in enough of a rut to be interested in doing this kind of film with sincerity and effort. The huge risk worked, the film was a smash hit, ensuring the others could happen, and RDJ was a star once more.
Now, the next stage in Marvel's plan was Incredible Hulk (2008). Hulk was a character the audiences knew, someone they could fall back on and watch from within their comfort zone. This eased the audience in, by bringing them something spectacular, more so than Iron Man, grooming them for the fantasy of Thor (2011). And should Iron Man have failed, Marvel still had Hulk.
So, about Incredible Hulk. This is an area of contention among fans, in many places.
The film wisely skipped the origin (except opening credit flashbacks), knowing the audience had seen them plenty of times. Now normally I demand origins be shown, but I found the omission acceptable here. The film starred Edward Norton as the main, Liv Tyler as Betty Ross, William Hurt as General Ross, and Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky/Abomination. Louis Letterrier and Zak Penn, and an uncredited Edward Norton, poured a lot in to this movie, which most people don't consider, and I think their effort was admirable. I loved the script and the directing, the characters were cast perfectly and we really got a sense of Banner. I liked where they went with all of the characters and what hints it made to the future. The amount of subtle references to the comics and T.V. show that Penn and Norton put in is amazing.
Now the thing with this film is it's considered the black sheep of the MCU. One of the first points is how vague the connection is to the other films. The connection relies mostly on Tony Stark's appearance and a few S.H.I.E.L.D. mentions, and some people feel it isn't enough, considering there are no Fury or Coulson appearances. Now, I honestly feel that this suits the character well. Hulk is a loner so it makes sense that there isn't much mentioned about anyone else. On top of that, many people don't consider that the only thing they really have to refer to is Iron Man at that point. Because of this weakness, many people say that it can be ignored and excluded from the MCU, especially considering a casting difference. To wrap this point up, after watching later films, I have come to realize (Although I did catch them the first time around, I did not think they would come to fruition) that there are references to the rest of the MCU, such as the Super Soldier serum. Aside form criticisms about the tone of the movie or it not having the "Marvel" humor, there is one major topic of heated, heated debate.
In the Incredible Hulk, Banner was played by Oscar-nom Edward Norton. In The Avengers (2012), after some kind of complicated something or other, Mark Ruffalo was Bruce Banner and poor Eisenheim was never mentioned again. This provides a debate among fans, Team Norton vs Team Ruffalo, an even greater "Team" dispute than the one between the lovers of the actor (portraying another one of Banner's alternate personalities) on the right, above. Many people cite Ruffalo as the definitive Banner, a smaller group claim Norton is the true king. Each side has arguments for both, so well thought out, and others completely asinine. It is my opinion that they are both the ideal Banner, despite playing such different characters, and looking so different, facts Ruffalo's Buffalos claim de-cannonizes Norton's film.
My reasoning for the appropriation of both actors is simple, and I am content with it. Edward Norton makes an excellent Hulk on the run, chased by his past, with his own supporting characters. Ruffalo is the ultimate (pun intended) "Avengers" Banner; he is no longer on the run, literally, and figuratively, he has let go of his past (Betty, Thunderbolt). Ruffalo is willing to work with a team, and Norton's Primal Fear is hurting people, and trying to run and hide. They both fulfill their stages of the character perfectly. After Banner learned to control the Hulk in IH, he was a changed man. Imagine if Ruffalo played Banner on the run of if Norton played him on the team. Both would be bad at it. Now, the ending of IH brings be to my next point. How did Banner physically change? I am not a fan of suspension of disbelief, so I have my own answer. When Banner learned to control the Hulk, the two personalities slowly merged, similar to the professor incarnation from the nineties. As a result, not only was Banner able to turn Hulk off and on, but A.) Hulk became a little smarter and a little less angry, like Banner, and B.) Seemingly as a trade off, Banner started looking a little more like Hulk, with the broader physique and the broader jaw, the bushier eye brows, and darker and scrappier hair. This works; Banner really does resemble the Hulk, because for Ruffalo's appearances, they captured his (already Hulk-like) facial features and put them on the Hulk.
So now I've gone over the entanglement of Hulk's past, but the next issue is...
Hulk's Future: He's the Wookiee of the Group, 'Cause He Sure Isn't Flying Solo
This is an even more tangled mess.
Despite what many fans seem to root for, the likelihood of Hulk getting his own solo film are a more tangled web than any attempt to get Spider-Man back (JK! (Simmons) I'll stop now.) The problem is this: As previously stated, Universal still gets money from solo Hulk films, apparently a lot of money. This is discouraging for Marvel, because the budget for another Hulk film, and even worse, the possibility of a low box office performance, means Marvel could lose a lot of money. Because of the financial risk, Marvel doesn't want, and maybe really can't do another Hulk film. On top of that, bittersweetly, they feel that they have enough going for Hulk in other films, so it works out in there eyes. And that's probably for the better; I can't see Ruffalo (Despite is excellent portrayal) leading and sustaining a whole, two hour thirty minutes Hulk film. It doesn't seem feasible. On top of that, Marvel can't even get the character back, which could mean they would make another film, because they are making films. It seems that the deal worked out that if Hulk keeps appearing on screens, even in other films, Universal gets to keep him however much longer. So the more Marvel uses Hulk, the less they secure his solo future. But again, even IF, and that's a mad sized if, they got him back, it still would be a huge risk. The budget would be astronomical, considering the only good option they have plot-wise after Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), which brings me to...
Plot and Setting
The plot and setting for a future Hulk film are extremely important, obviously. What many fans want is to see a Planet Hulk movie, based on the comic of the same name. Many think that Age of Ultron leads up to this perfectly, with Hulk flying away in the Quinjet, leaving the others. Personally, whether or not I wish this could be the case, it doesn't work. In the MCU (regardless of any other version) The Quinjets have not been shown as being capable of space travel. And space travel isn't some fringe thing that you can say, "Oh well it can also do that, I guess" about. It needs to be fully elaborated, and I doubt S.H.I.E.L.D. just made space ships out of the blue. Additionally, I don't think Hulk would have steered it to space, where it was not already going. This is totally negated by Fury's statement it crashed somewhere near Fiji.
But, ignoring previous logical fallacies, let's discuss the possibility of Planet Hulk. The problem that is first in foremost in my mind is Budget(/ vs box office). Now a Planet Hulk film would be kick ass, and maybe I'm wrong, people might go to see it, now that Super Heroes are so popular in film, and which I might add is supported by the fact that Avatar (2009), which last I checked, nobody actually cared about, is the highest grossing movie ever. But back to the negative. The budget for an accurate, deep and lore-rich Planet Hulk film would be insanely high. Think about Thor: The Dark World (2013). No not your opinion, just objectively. Now, think about Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Planet Hulk would similarly encounter diverse, stunning, and complex planets, creatures, species, weapons, and transportation. The budgets for the those two films were 170 Million and 195.9 million dollars, respectively. Now imagine all of the aforementioned features in details in those films. Add them up, then double it. That would be the amount of pedantic lore in the movie. Now imagine the budget. Now factoring in that the character of the Hulk alone costs a shit-ton of money for his limited screen time in any Avengers outing, and the fact that he, and several similarly expensive characters will appear throughout the entire movie, you have a production cost of about
So the budget isn't feasible at all. And the plot is an issue to. Although you could maybe make the bulk of the story work, the beginning, which already can't be used, ties in so tightly to the climax and the events that follow that the ending would have to be drastically altered. In the beginning of the comic, the Illuminati (Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic (Can't use him!) Dr. Strange, Black Bolt, Namor and Professor X (Can't use those two either!)) decide to send Hulk out in to space so he can never harm anyone again, after a particularly dangerous episode. I admit, AAOU does taken inspiration from, even emulate this to some extent, however it is totally without one crucial detail: The Avengers didn't send Hulk away, he did it himself, and they even try to find him. In the end of the comic, this really pisses Hulk off and he comes back to Earth in World War Hulk and fucks shit up for the Avengers. So the story becomes dead on arrival, unless it is totally changed in the end.
Now, beyond budget/box office and plot (overall), even more issues exist, and this issue is one that comes up so, so, very very much in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That issue is the ugly little bastard of film rights. Remember I mentioned them earlier? The story features quite a few characters that don't belong to Marvel, and they are all owned by Fox. Some of them can be reasonably worked around without hurting the story, like Mr. Fantastic or Professor X (Although as I already said, the are no longer needed), while others cannot be substituted or excluded. Those characters would be Silver Surfer and Galactus, who were both ruined in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) (Well, Surfer was okay...). Those characters, especially Surfer, who I will talk about later, play a significant role in the story and it wouldn't work without them.
But again, the issue that just keeps coming to my mind is box office. I struggle with how people would react to it. The first MCU Hulk films wasn't great at the box office, but maybe now that people like these films more it would be more successful. On the other hand, as much as you or I might take it seriously, I feel that most people would have trouble watching a movie of two hours upwards featuring a giant green monster fighting other crazy creatures in a Greco-Roman gladiatorial setting. I just can't see people gravitating towards it except die-hards.
However, there are some other options for a Hulk film, and by "others" I mean only one that could happen between AAOU and Captain America: Civil War (2016) or any other future Hulk appearance. Basically, Hulk would just be doing crazy shit on Fiji. That's it. However, if we eschew what the future films have in store for him, some pretty good ideas do come to my mind, which I'll get to two or three sections from now.
So, there's why I think a Planet Hulk movie could not possibly work. On the other hand, I do have some positives about the idea and even some ways it could happen...
The Possible Pros of Planet Hulk
Although some many negatives weigh it down to the point that it just couldn't happen, there are some things that would be awesome about a Hulk film and some ways to resolve some issues. I would definitely go see Planet Hulk, and I know I would love it, but it is my personal opinion that there are other Hulk stories to tell first, which is the last section, if you want to skip to it.
The first obvious pro of Planet Hulk is it gives the character a good place to be during Civil War, considering he won't be in it at this point. Hulk is doing something fun, cool, and that would make a good movie, so he's not being unused in some closet.
Another pro that everyone loves is Guardians of the Galaxy. Not only would it be awesome to see Hulk's unique reactions with Groot, Rocket, and Drax, but this would provide an excellent bridge between the Guardians and Marvel Cosmic and the Avengers and Marvel Terrestrial. Hulk would work better than any of the Avengers, for a variety of reasons. For Thor, though it would make sense, he is not of Earth, so it wouldn't really do much. Hulk is from Earth, but he's Hulk, so Peter Quill probably wouldn't be blown away by culture shock, and even then, Banner's diplomacy would lead him to slowly answer Starlord's questions. Second, again, since he isn't human, that might prompt Quill to think before going back to Earth, if he even knows where it is. If the Guardians were featured, that would actually be a perfect film, in terms of continuity. The idea that's going through my head is the Guardians somehow end up as forced fighters on Sakaar, possibly for the death of Korath, where they meet and team up with the Hulk to fight. Quill could learn of Hulk's Earth origin, and he could be told of Earth's progression. When Quill learns about the Avengers, he could think that now, more than ever would be a great time to return home and find his family, as it would not shock the Earth's populace; a debate he has had in his mind for a while. With this revelation they make a plan to fight through it all and eventually escape. I'll skip the mid section.
Eventually, they get back on the Milano with the Hulk and land in the middle of nowhere (Pun not intended) and make there way to the Avengers. The film ends when Hulk rings the doorbell, accidentally breaking it, and Captain America and Black Widow open it is shock. Or, they stay in space and meet the Avengers in Infinity War. Now, along the way, some other there are some other pros I have devised. The Soul gem could revealed. The Red King could have it, as an amulet, and he uses it to keep the gladiators fighting/in the Colosseum. So, in order to escape, they have to steal the Soul Gem. Once they escape, they decide it would not be wise to take it to the Nova Corps or the Collector, knowing Thanos wants it, which they tell Hulk (a revelation to the Avengers) Hulk then suggests someone on Earth. Before they meet the Avengers, they give the necklace to Dr. Strange for safe-keeping.
Another story idea, that is a little against character, is that Starlord finds out (Let's say he has some beeping device to indicate someone near has genetic similarities that goes off when the Avengers open the door) that through some means, Captain America is his maternal grandfather. Remember how Starlord's mom was played by an actress who also got an autograph from Cap? Maybe that could be a fun plot twist that she was his grandmother. Now Steve isn't the kind of guy to sleep out of marriage, but who knows.
Now the other thing is I think it's possible, and might actually happen, that Marvel will get the rights to the Surfer back. He's necessary for Infinity Wars, and Fox doesn't look like they will use him in their terrible reboot, and considering the Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch deal, it could happen.
This way, the Guardians and Avengers could meet, the Avengers could learn of Thanos, Hulk would be occupied and then come back to Earth.
The Bright Future
So even though Planet Hulk can't happen, although it could be Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017), the Hulk still has his future planned out.
The first thing to know is that Mark Ruffalo has four more films in his contract, two confirmed to be the Infinity Wars films, so we know the character is returning to take on Thanos, and even two more films after, or before that. If the two other films happen are before, they could only possibly be Civil War and GotG2, so if you want Planet Hulk, you might just get it. The next part of Hulk’s future lies in The Incredible Hulk. We haven’t seen a returning cast member from IH (excluding RDJ) in seven years, but in Civil War, William Hurt will triumphantly return as General Ross. Now, if your Hulk fix lies more on seeing someone Hulked-out than connecting the dots, you might be in luck. Rumor has it that Ross might just fill Hulk’s Civil War role from the comics by becoming the Red Hulk, so have fun with that.
So even though we might not see him for a while, we will see the Green Goliath in the near future, so don’t get you purple pants in knot.
What I Want
Remember I was talking about other stories they could do?
Here's the story I want.
Gray Hulk. It would be perfect. After crashing in Fiji, Hulk swims the Pacific (something he did in the comics) to the American west coast. There, angry and confused, he makes his way to Nevada. The effects of Scarlet Witch's mind control are taking there toll, despite his repression of them during the Battle of Sokovia, and he falls unconscious. When he wakes up, he finds himself in a casino lounge room. A man talks to him, revealing he owns the casino and he saved him from the desert. The man tells him that he owns the casino an love for him to work as a leg-breaker/bouncer. He agrees, but he is shocked, thinking he is only Banner. He then goes to look in the mirror to find that he is Gray Hulk. After some time working in the casino, the place is attacked by none other than the Leader. Hulk fights Sterns, who came for more of to capture and study him. The fight results in several casualties, including the casino owner (I forget his name) and the casino is destroyed. It is then that the leader enters the Hulk's mind and causes and identity crisis. Hulk evades the Leader and flees eastward.
Hulk wanders through the desert, at this point of the film, we see not only his physical struggle, but also the fight in his mind, interspersed. We see Green Hulk, Banner, and Gray Hulk fighting for dominance. Along the way, a collapsed and catatonic Hulk is found my a young Jim Wilson, seen in IH. HE has fallen on extremely hard times and has wandered the west looking for money. The two form a bond as they venture to the east coast. Hulk's goal is to reunite with the Avengers, and Jim's is to reunite with his only living family member, his uncle. Little do the two know that they have the same goal. Along the way, they perform acts of heroism in various states, saving people from fires etc. Hulk still has mental struggles. They come across the Leader a few more times, or more likely, smaller Hulk villains that the Leader has hired out.
Eventually, they reach Dr. Leonard Samson, who enters Hulk's mind. He then becomes Dr. Samson, and teams up with Bruce Banner and Green Hulk to banish Gray Hulk (Who has passive-aggressively attempted to stop them from reaching the East). When it's over, Samson has channeled part of Gray Hulk into himself, keeping him out of Banner. This causes the him to turn into the muscular Samson, and Banner and Green Hulk are at peace once more like in The Avengers. As Banner debates whether he should return to the team, they see on the news that the Leader is attacking some place in NYC. The trio go after him and begin to fight. We then see Falcon in the Avengers facility, where he is alerted of the news. As the only Avenger not currently in battle, he must go after the Leader alone. There, he meets up with Hulk, Samson and and Jim. He and Jim have a brief reunion, as he is, in fact, Jim's uncle. In the fight, the Leader exploits this weakness and kills Jim, enraging the heroes. Falcon nearly kills him, however, shockingly, it is the Hulk that convinces him to spare him. As they debate what to do and Falcon mourns, a van pulls up. Out steps Director Coulson. They are not sure how to react, thinking he was dead. He takes Leader into custody, and tells them that he will see them again, but for their own safety, he wipes there memory ala Men in Black. They return to the Avengers facility. Falcon opens the door, and the other Avengers are all there. They are in shock. He tells them to welcome one new team member, one returning, and one who didn't make it, carrying Jim. Widow and Hulk are reunited and the film ends. Post credit: Banner and Romanoff are sitting across Betty and Samson awkwardly, twiddling their thumbs.
Well, there's the story I want to happen. Tell me what you think.
To conclude, remember that analogy for way long ago? Probably not. Anyway, I was describing a Hulk film. The idea behind that is that a super hero film is just like its hero: Iron Man movies are sleek, futuristic, smart, and snarky, Thor films are Regal, but also humorously crass, headstrong and fun, Captain America movies are old-fashioned in many ways but also very modern, and all about the right thing to do, and Hulk films are big, awkward, clunky, and not everybody likes them, but most importantly, they are misunderstood.